Friday, October 4, 2013

Indulgence versus Restraint

The final dimension of Geert Hofstede's analysis of national culture is indulgence versus restraint.  Once again, as I do with so much anthropological work, I find all of these terms loaded and inherently judgmental, so if you notice that in my synopsis, I ask you to forgive me.  But I'm still going to go through this dimension because, once again, I think that it offers some big insights into our stories.

Cultures that favor indulgence choose not to judge basic human drives for enjoyment and fun while cultures that favor restraint shun these desires.  On the other hand, cultures which favor restraint often advocate advanced planning and saving while sometimes shunning the needs of others in the community in the process.  On the opposite side, those favoring indulgence are often generous to those around them but may not have any resources when they are needed at a later date.

In reality, most cultures are a mixture of the two extremes, and, in fairness, Hofstede recognizes that these impulses lie on a continuum, even if his terms to describe them tend toward the judgmental.  But when I say that cultures are a mix of these ideals, I mean more than that they are a continuum.  Many theorists (I think Bakhtin was one, but it's been a long time since I have reviewed the theories) maintain that periods of sanctioned indulgence in a society make it possible for the society to maintain periods of restraint.  Examples would include Mardi Gras and Lent and Ramadan and Eid.  In reality, however, to indulge in one area requires restraint in another.  For example, girls who like to party frequently spend most of their time dieting.  Men who like to watch big games in person often save for months for those season tickets.  These cycles of indulgence and restraint reveal a great deal about pleasures and priorities.

What is an indulgence that you or your family have?  In what ways did you or your family need to restrain yourself in order to indulge?

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